Home School Court Report
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No. 5

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The Last Word Previous Page Next Page
by J. Michael Smith
- disclaimer -
On the Road with HSLDA

As I reminisce through 25 years of involvement with HSLDA, travel emerges as an integral part of my job as a lawyer here. I’ve always enjoyed travel, although traveling by air today is much more complicated and difficult than it was when I first started traveling for HSLDA.

HSLDA / Art Cox
J. Michael Smith, President, Home School Legal Defense Association

There are three basic reasons that our staff travels from our office here in Purcellville, Virginia. First, we go out to represent families at court and administrative hearings, whether they be at the trial or the appellate level. Second, we are invited to speak at conferences and symposiums by various state and local homeschool support groups around the country, and HSLDA occasionally puts on symposiums at the invitation of various state organizations. Finally, we testify before state legislatures and other administrative bodies on homeschooling and parental rights issues.

As I recently recounted in the May/June 2008 Court Report, I spoke at my first homeschool conference in 1981, shortly after our family began homeschooling. Dr. Raymond Moore, one of the leading pioneers in the homeschool movement, had invited me to attend a homeschool conference in southern California. I thought I was going as an observer, until Dr. Moore informed me in the car that I would be giving a talk on the legality of homeschooling—with a folder of materials he had collected and 30 minutes to prepare. Later on, as I grew thoroughly familiar with how to defend a homeschool case in California and around the country, it became obvious that the information I shared with that homeschool audience in 1981 was woefully inadequate.

Since then, in my 25 years of traveling on behalf of HSLDA, I have gone to 48 states and have spoken to homeschool audiences or legislatures in 46 states. The first state legislature that I had the privilege of addressing regarding the issue of homeschooling was my home state of Arkansas. The year was 1987, and my family was moving across country from California to Virginia to work full-time for HSLDA. We had planned to spend a few days with my parents in my hometown of Mena, approximately 150 miles from the capital. The morning after we arrived, I opened up the statewide newspaper and read that there was going to be a hearing the next day in the education committee on the issue of homeschooling.

A bill had been introduced to restrict the freedom of homeschoolers because of allegations that a cult was using homeschooling as a cover for neglecting the education of their children. Through the HSLDA office in Virginia, I was able to contact the president of the Arkansas state homeschool organization and get the particulars of the hearing and some of the issues surrounding it. I made arrangements to show up the next day to testify against the bill. I delivered my testimony before a very hostile education committee made up of all public school officials, either retired or actively working for a public school.

We had a good outcome that day as a result of doing a little investigation ahead of time regarding the alleged cult. We found out that, in fact, this religious group, made up of families living in a commune, had established a private school. The private school had actually been licensed by the state of Arkansas. Therefore, the allegations that these children were being homeschooled were totally false. We pointed this out to the committee and gave our testimony on the benefits of homeschooling and the constitutional right to do so. Ultimately, the committee decided to table the bill that session.

Perhaps my most memorable trip involving legislative testimony occurred the year after Nebraska homeschoolers won a valiant victory to overcome their state’s teacher certification requirement for homeschooling. The legislature had just recognized homeschoolers as private schools electing not to meet state accreditation or approval requirements. The year after this monumental victory, a bill was introduced by a state senator, prompted by the Nebraska teachers union, that would have simply obliterated the new law, returning to the teacher certification requirement.

When we showed up to testify that morning, we were met by over 1,000 homeschoolers there to express their dissatisfaction with this bill. We packed out the huge senate chamber to overflowing. A remote video feed was provided to the rest of the homeschoolers in the rotunda of the capitol. Influential homeschool leaders from around the country had flown into Lincoln to testify against this bill, and we all lined up, ready to give our testimony. However, the chairman of the committee allowed the proponent of the bill to present his lone witness first. This witness was the representative of the Nebraska teachers union, and she closed her testimony by producing her teacher’s certificate and dramatically ripping it in two. She declared to the education committee that, by passing the bill allowing homeschoolers to operate as private schools the previous legislative term, they had destroyed the value of a teacher’s certificate in Nebraska.

Then it was our turn. I gave my testimony. Dr. Raymond Moore and several other prominent homeschool leaders testified, and then the chairman of the committee called a recess. After the chairman reconvened the committee, he announced that the sponsor of the bill had decided to withdraw it. Needless to say, the room went crazy. This was my first real exposure to the effective influence that homeschoolers can have on legislation through grassroots lobbying.

Traveling is part of our job at HSLDA, and it can be challenging, but it is very rewarding. The major benefit of the travel is personal contact with our members and with homeschoolers around the country. Truly, we are privileged to rub shoulders with the finest people in the world at conferences, testifying at legislative hearings, and trying administrative and court cases around the country.

When one of our co-laborers is in your area, we encourage you to introduce yourself so we can get to know you. We look forward to seeing you on the road in the future.